Why Weight Loss Resolutions Are Dangerous to Mental Health

white scale in bathroom with sad face emoji on digital display

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they’re trying to get in shape is setting a specific goal of losing a certain number of pounds. The New Year is here (2018, yikes!), and people just love to set New Year’s resolutions involving weight loss. Oftentimes, the focus is primarily on a specific number of pounds to lose — or size to fit into — rather than a more holistic goal of increasing physical activity and fitness, which is more beneficial to overall health.

Around the start of the New Year, weight loss and fitness goals are in full force. Everyone seems to be in the “New year, new me!” mindset, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Gym membership sign ups are at their highest during the first quarter of the year. January accounts for about 12% of yearly sign ups, opposed to the average of 8% in other months.

It’s great to have resolutions involving physical health, since physical health and mental health are so closely intertwined. Adding more exercise into your routine (or maybe establishing a routine) can boost your mood and reduce anxiety. Conversely, putting too much emphasis on weight loss can be dangerous to your mental health.

The scale can be confusing. When you step on a scale, it’s not going to tell you what percentage is fat and which is muscle. It’s also not going to tell you if you’re healthy or fit. Most importantly, it is not an indication of your self worth! Negative self-esteem and “thin ideal internalization” are contributing risk factors for eating disorders, which can be extremely dangerous. Even if disordered eating does not occur, poor body image can be damaging and have lasting consequences.

Instead of focusing on a number, you should focus on getting stronger, faster, more flexible, happier, and less anxious. If weight is important to you and you still insist on that, you can measure it — but take exact numbers with a grain of salt. Also, taking before and after photos of yourself from multiple angles in your workout gear or a bathing suit can be a better way to see the progress that you’re making rather than just looking at a silly number. Additionally, keep track of other types of progress markers, like how long it took you to run a mile before and after a certain period of training, for example.

Another factor to consider is disappointment that can come along with weight loss. This can come from having an unrealistic, unattainable goal, or meeting a goal and still not being happy with the way you look.

Instead of setting specific weight loss resolutions, here’s a bunch of ideas for New Year’s resolutions tied to physical health that don’t explicitly involve weight and can be beneficial for your mental health, too.

  • I will aim to use exercise as a means to feeling well instead of just focusing on the scale.
  • I will love and accept my body, so-called flaws and all.
  • I will appreciate my body for all the amazing things it’s capable of.
  • I will nourish my body with healthy foods full of nutrients.
  • I will actively work on improving my body image.
  • I will exercise at least 4 times a week.
  • I will use the gym as a place not only for fitness, but also to make new friends.
  • I will use exercise as a way to bond with my significant other or friends.
  • I will get out of my comfort zone and try a fitness class I’ve always been scared to try.
  • I will try out a sport that I’ve never done before.
  • I will talk to my therapist about my feelings about my body.

So remember, weight is really nothing but a number, and there are plenty of other ways to measure physical fitness and progress. Use the previous suggestions (or use them as is) to create your own fitness resolutions for the New Year, and make 2018 your best year yet — physically and mentally.

Published by

Ashley Laderer

Contributor